05 January 2007

1342) Social Lives Of Armenians Who Lived In Balikesir During The Ottoman Period

Assist Prof Dr İsmail Hakkı MERCAN
University of Balıkesir Faculty of Art and Science Department of History / Balıkesir

Turks and Armenians first encountered each other during the campaigns of Arab armies in Armenia, in which some Turks served as frontier (avâsım and suğûr) soldiers. However, the struggle between Byzantine and Seljuk Empires constituted a significant point in the Turkish-Armenian relationship.1 . .

The Emperor Basil II (976–1025) of Byzantium wiped out small Armenian kingdoms and principalities in order to secure the eastern borders of his empire and sent a considerable number of Armenians to mid-Anatolia and Sivas. As a result, the Byzantine borders reached Azerbaijan and the Caucasus, and the Byzantine and Seljuk Empires became neighbors as well as adversaries. The Emperor Constantine (1042–1055) continued the same policy, and, therefore, Armenians permanently settled in Anatolia.2 Osman Turan quoted from a contemporary Armenian

1 See Islamic chronicles.
2 Osman Turan, Selçuklular Tarihi ve Türk-İslam Medeniyeti (History of Seljuks and
Turk-Islam Civilization), 5th ed., Istanbul 1996, p. 121.


author, Mathieu, that “Armenians were forced out from their homeland and deported to Anatolia”.3

Later on, when the Turkish campaigns towards Anatolia were intensified while Byzantines retreated from eastern and central Anatolia to western Anatolia and the Balkans, Armenians who settled there left these regions for the Taurus Mountains in southern Anatolia and Kilikia (in antiquity, Cilicia) and joined their brethrens who settled there long before.4

After capturing Istanbul in 1453, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II (“The Conqueror”) brought some Armenians to the new capital city of the empire and settled them in Samatya. According to Tapu-Tahrir registers (Land Registers) of 1530 and after, the Ottoman cities with an Armenian population were Amid (Diyarbakır), Arapkir, Bayburd, Çemişgezek, Çüngüş, Çermik, Divriği, Harput, Hısn-ı Kehf (Hasankeyf ), İspir, Kayseri, Kütahya, Maraş, Mardin, Nusaybin, Urfa, Siirt, Sis (Kozan), Sivas, Tokat and Trabzon.5 The capital of Karesi Sanjak (province), Balıkesir, had no Christian population at all, but contained a small Jewish community consisting of 50-60 people.6

In this context, it is still a question that needs to be answered in a separate study as to when and how a small number of Armenians came to and settled in Balıkesir, since it was established by the Turks who occupied the region and was the capital of Turkish Karesi Principality until the beginning of Ottoman rule in the 14th century. In the beginning, the population consisted of only Turkish inhabitants called “Turkmen” or “Yoruks” and “Manavs”. Later on, the Turks who fled from the Balkans, and are still called “Muhacirs,” joined them.

There are some ideas on when and how Armenians came to Balıkesir. İlgürel argues that a very small number of Armenians might have come along with other Christian populations who were settled here during

3 Turan, ibid, p. 152.
4 Turan, ibid, p. 283.
5 Nejat GÖYÜNÇ, “Osmanlı İmparatorluğunda Ermeniler” (Armenians in Ottoman Empire), TÜRKLER, v. 10, Ankara, 2002, p. 237-238.
6 İsmail Hakkı (UZUNÇARŞILI), Karesi Vilayeti Tarihçesi (History of Karesi Province), Istanbul, 1341, p. 50.



the first occupation of the Balkans by the Turks as a security measure.7

However, the number of Armenians, if there were any, must have been very small at this time, and the existent Armenian population must have been sent by the Ottoman Government during the Celâlî insurgency in central Anatolia in order to protect their lives and properties.8

According to İlgürel, at the end of the 19th century the population of Balıkesir was 87,000, including 1,200 Greeks and 2,500 Armenians. However, Vital Cuinet suggests that the population of the city was 13,118, including 1,266 Greeks and 1,941 Armenians for the same period. İlgurel must have added people living in towns and villages around Balıkesir to the total number, and this should be the reason for the difference between the two.9

Balıkesir Şer’iye (Court) Registers shed some light on when Armenians came to the city, their relations with the administration, their trade activities and their religious lives.10 According to those documents from the early 17th century, Armenians first came to the city and started to settle there.11 Although Balıkesir Court Registers do not directly mention Armenians, the term zimmî (non-Muslims) was used to describe them.

Since at the time there was no other Christian population in Balıkesir, and in other documents the term Ermeni taifesi (Armenian tribe or group)

7 Mücteba İlgürel, “Balıkesir”, DV İslam Ansiklopedisi V (DV Encyclopedia of Islam) volume V, Istanbul 1992, p. 12–14.
8 Mücteba İlgürel, “Celâlî İsyanları” (Celali insurgency), DİA VII, Istanbul 1993, p.252–257.
9 İlgürel, ibid, p. 12-14.
10 Abdülmecit Mutaf, “Balıkesir’de İskan Edilen Ermenilerin Yönetim ve Müslüman Halkla İlişkileri” (Administarition of Armenians who were settled in Balıkesir and Their Relations with Muslim Population), Celal Bayar Üniyersitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi (2003)(Journal of Institute of Social Sciences of Celal Bayar University), Manisa 2003, V.I, issue 1, p. 71-80.
11 “Zeyd ve Amr ve Bekir müslimîn zimmî taifesinden bazı kimesneleri avluları dahilinde iskan idüb ekser evkâtte kendüleri huzûr ve gayblarında mezkûrûn zimmîler bazı havâyic îsâl etmek nâmına mezbûrînin zevcâtı üzerlerine dâhil olup muttali’ olmaları meşrû’an câiz olur mu beyan buyrulup...
El-cevap: Olmaz, münkirât-ı müteşenni’adan olup men’i lazımdır. Allahü a’lem” Balıkesir Şer’iye Sicilleri, Defter (Book) No 693, Sayfa (page) no 1, Belge (document) no 1. date, 1012 (this document is a fetva.)


was used, it can be concluded that they were Armenian immigrants to whom the first document referred as zimmî. 12

The document mentions zimmî in plural form and that might lead to the conclusion that Armenians came to the city as a group. When the documents with Armenian affairs were analyzed, it can be concluded that there were around 100 houses inhabited by Armenians in the 17th century in Balıkesir.13 At the time the population of the city was approximately 10,000.14

Although they came from various places, most of Armenians who settled in Balıkesir were from Iran.15 The documents also reveal that there were Armenians who came from Çüngüş town of the sanjak (province) of Harput16 (This is confusing. The town on my map is in Diyarbakir province.) and from Sivas as well.17 They must have been among the Armenians who left their homes in eastern Anatolia during the Celali insurgencies at the end of the 16th century and at the beginning of the 17th century and sought refuge in Istanbul, Tekirdağ and in other western Anatolian cities.18 Most of them were families with craftsmen and priests among them. It is understood that they could not take many of their belongings with them since they could ask for help from Muslim families for their needs. The Tereke (register of a deceased person’s belongings and estates) of an Armenian, called Babacan, confirms this assumption that his belongings consisted of a slave, a female slave, a bundle, a belt, a long thick woolen blanket and a carpet.

We learn from the documents that while some of Armenians had the usual Armenian names, such as Evans, Anderye, Kirker, Mardos, Yorgi, Yani, Menol, Nikola, Yagop, Nevros, Pabak, Yasef, Haçok, Artan, Ovans, Abraham, Nehros, Bogas, Eriki, Nikros, Argo, İsrail, David, Gregos and

12 “...ricâl ve nisâ cemiyet idüb hala şimdi yine yüzden ziyade kefere tâifesi cem’ olmuşlardır...” 697/35a-1 (8.Rebi’u’l-ahir.1078).
13 See footnote 12.
14 Mutaf, ibid, p. 71-80.
15 “...ekserisi acem keferesi...” ibid
16 701/36b-1.
17 693/216-4.
18 İlgürel, “Celali İsyanları” (Celali Insurgency), DİA, VII, p. 252-257, Mutaf, op.cit p. 71-80


Hoça some others had Turkish names, like Murad, Timur, Derman, Karagöz, Melikşah, Bali, Bayram, Altun, Hızır, Arslan, Derviş, Babacan, Durmuş and Oruç. Murad was the most common among these Turkish names. The same situation was also applicable for female names. While some of them were called Margerit, Hüma, Erfendel and Sare, usual Armenian names, others again used Turkish names, like Nazlı, Sultan, Meryem and Şehri. Considering they did not change their religion but just their names, it must be the result of cultural exchange and the idea that they were Christians who became Turks.

When they first came to Balıkesir, they lived in rented houses but later they started to buy houses in the different neighborhoods. The tradition of non-Muslims living in the same neighborhood could not be wholly realized in Balıkesir for a long time. In 1617 Armenian Arslan bought a house from Mehmet Bey in Martlu district.19 In 1621 Argo bought a house from a women called İsmihan in the neighborhood of Mirzabey.20 In 1622 Armenian Bali lived in the Eskikuyumcular quarter,21 while Yani was living the Karaoğlan neighborhood.22 In time, however, Armenians began to move in the same districts as Turks,and in 1667 they were living in Ali Fakih district (now Dumlupınar). They even turned a house there into a church without permission.23 As a matter of fact, the Armenians lived in mixed quarters with Muslims. This neighborhood of these mixed quarters is known as the place in which non-Muslims once lived.24

19 695/51-3.
20 698/55a-1.
21 697/71b-2.
22 699/44b-2.
23 697/35a-1.
24 According to 1845 census although Armenians were living in Ali Fakih, Karaoğlan, Yenice, Eskikuyumcular, Börekçiler, Martlı and Kasaplar neighborhoods in Ali Fakih neighborhood only one household was Muslim 50 of the rest were Armenian and 13 of them were Greeks.(See Tacettin AKKUŞ, Tanzimat Başlarında Balıkesir Kazası (Balıkesir at the beginning of Tanzimat) (1840-1845), Balıkesir, 2001, p.23.).


There were masons25, tailors26, breadmakers27, small shop-owners28 as well as owners of oil production facilities29 and oil traders30 among Armenians. Apart from Sultan who traded with her husband in villages, there is the mention of a woman called Sare whose job was described as Dellale (a woman town crier) in the documents.31 These records show that Armenian women, even children, worked to support their families.

32 Records of the cases of credit, debit and bonds demonstrate that Armenians were actively involved in trade. It is interesting to note that some of the early records refer to the fathers’ names of Armenians who were in trade such as Abdullah, which was generally used for those who converted to Islam. That brings to the mind that some of the early converts helped newcomer Armenians in their trade.33 Moreover, Armenians established partnerships with Muslims for business purposes34, traded with them35, bought and sold houses36 and livestock37 and lent money to each other38.

Armenians and Turks had developed good and close neighborly relations as well. When they first came to the city they did not have any

25 “Yani veled Nikola nam zimmî Ali bin Yahya nam kimesnenin bir bahçe duvarını yapmaya kavlettim dediği...” 693/197-3.
26 “Zimmî terzi Gülbek...”, 694/100a-2. “...Ermeni terzi Murad...”, 694/100a-4.
27 “Ermeniden müslüman olan Mustafa bin Abdullah nam kimesne ekmekçilikten hüsn-i ihtiyariyle fâriğ olduğu...”, 694/126b-1.
28 “...Ermeni avratı Sultan ve zevci ile ticaret idüb karye karye gezerler iken...”, 694/115a-2.
29 “...Ermeni Murad...Mustafa ile....yağhane işleyüp...”, 697/15b-1.
30 “Derviş nam Ermeni yağcı ıyd-ı şerîfe ve Artan ve Karagöz nam Ermeniler ıyd-ı şerîfe seksen desti yağ bulmaya....ahid verildiği...”, 694/115b-2.
31 “...dellale Ermeni karısı Sare bint Hoçak...”, 694/100a-1.
32 “Mustafa bin Abdullah...Tiyaskot(?) nam Ermeni oğlanını beş ayda yedi yüz akçeye icareye tutmuştum...”,693/217-3.
33 a.g.b. ve “...Nevruz veled Derviş nam Ermeni...Mustafa bin Abdullah’a beş aded kâmil guruş deynim vardır...”, 693/189-7.“Oldur ki Mehmed bin Abdullah...dellale... Sare’den yedi yüz akçeye bir kırmızılı alaca kaftan verip...”, 694/98b-6.
34 “Ermeni Murad...Mustafa ile bundan akdem...yağhane işleyüp...”, 697/15b-1.
35 694/115a-2.
36 695/51-3 ve 698/55a-1.
37 694/115a-8.
38 “Ermeni Abraham...dava edip bundan akdem mezbur Bektaş ile şeriki Aksak Nasuh nam kimselere dört bin akçe verip...”, 696/10a-1.


place to rest and settle but Turks helped them out by offering them their courtyards to settle temporarily. Houses in Balıkesir then were called menzil, and one or more of them together with other auxiliary buildings were built in a large courtyard.39 Surrounded with high walls, courtyards were very important parts of the everyday family lives of Muslims at the time, since the privacy of the family began at those walls. Therefore, it can be considered that what they did then for their Armenian neighbors was a sacrifice to be appreciated. 40 Apart from welcoming their new neighbors in their houses, they provided them with some essential needs.

The example given below demonstrates how Armenians and Turks lived side by side in mixed quarters in a system created by the Ottoman rule41:

The imam (leading religious figure) and a group of elderly from Karaoğlan neighborhood came to the court and filed a complaint against an Armenian called Yani because he beat his wife Erfendel all the time without any reason and threatened her with killing her with a knife. Yani told the court that he beat her because she did not cook. But neighbors said that he attacked his wife with a knife a couple of times and threatened her with killing, and they warned him many times but he did not listen and they did not want him in the neighborhood anymore. When his wife confirmed this, Yani was banned from the neighborhood. But then his wife Erfendel had no place to go; therefore, she was entrusted to the imam by the court until she could find a place to live. 42

39 Abdülmecit MUTAF, XVII.Yüzyılda Balıkesir’de Kadınlar (Women in Balıkesir in XVII century), (Yayınlanmamış Doktora Tezi) (unpublished PhD thesis), Univeristy of Dokuzeylül, Institute of Social Sciences, Izmir, 2002, p. 93.
40 Fikret YILMAZ, “XVI. Yüzyıl Osmanlı Toplumunda Mahremiyetin Sınırlarına Dair” (About the borders of privacy in the Ottoman society in XVI century), Toplum ve Bilim (Society and Science) v. 83, (1999-2000), Istanbul, 2000, p. 105
41 Osmanlı mahallesindeki sistem ve düzen için bkz For the system and order in an Ottoman neighborhood see Özer ERGENÇ, “Osmanlı Şehrinde Mahallenin İşlev ve Nitelikleri Üzerine” (Neighborhood’s mechanism and characteristics in Ottoman City), Osmanlı Araştırmaları (Ottoman Studies) v. IV, Istanbul, 1984, p. 69-78.
42 694/44b-2,3,4,5 ve 6.



There were from time-to-time conversions to Islam among the Armenian population of Balıkesir, but these were single instances.43 Someone who wanted to become a Muslim needed to go before the Kadı (the highest judge of a region) and proclaim “kelime-i şehadet” in the presence of an elder Muslim witness and became Muslim.44 Then he/she was given a Muslim name.45 There was a special condition for married women who wanted to become Muslim since a Muslim woman could not marry a non-Muslim man. When they became Muslim, they were automatically divorced from their non-Muslim husbands. Maybe for this reason some of the families, like the family who emigrated from Çüngüş, used to convert altogether.46 Sometimes, on the one hand, like the Armenian Sultan, a woman would marry a Muslim man. On the other hand, some Christian women used to became Muslim later on.47

Although there were some advantages to becoming Muslim for the subjects of the Ottoman Empire, such as exemption from cizye, the tax taken from non-Muslim subjects, the actual reasons should be found in cultural exchanges and living in mixed societies. The example given below is an example:

Armenian Mardos’s son called Oruç came to the Kadı and said, “My father tied me up in order to prevent me being a Muslim, but I run away and became Muslim”. After the court decided that he had reached the age of discretion, he became Muslim by proclaiming şehadet before the assembly of the city 48

The Armenians had a minor problem with the authorities about a church at first. Since they had no place to worship, they turned a house

43 For Kayseri and Cyprus examples see M. Akif ERDOĞRU, “XVI. – XVII. Yüzyıllarda Kayseri Zimmileri” (Kayseri Non-Muslims in XVI and XVII centuries), 1. Kayseri ve Yöresi Tarih Sempozyumu Bildirileri (1st Symposium on History of Kayseri and Surroundings) (11-12 April 1996), Kayseri, 1997, p. 71-78. and “Osmanlı Kıbrısında İhtida Meselesi 1580-1640” (Conversion Issue in Ottoman Cyprus 1580-1640), İsmail Aka Armağanı, Izmir, 1999, p. 163-171.
44 695/56-4.
45 “Ermeniden müslüman olan Mustafa bin Abdullah nam kimesne...”, 694/126b-1.
46 701/36b-3.
47 694/83b-1.
48 693/179-2.



into a church in Eskikuyumcular quarter in 1622 without the necessary permissions and fetva (an opinion on a legal matter offered by a müfti) from the relevant authorities and got caught. In the document one of them recorded noting “…at these times there is no need to fetva…”49.

They must have insisted on not applying for a permission and fetva that they got caught. Once again in 1667 a house was turned into a church without permission; this time in Ali Fakih quarter. The court warned them and encouraged them to follow legal procedures for having a church.50 We understand that they solved this problem right after this incident and got a legal church since they applied for the renovation of their church in 1673 and got permission to do so.51 One year later they applied again for the repair of the roof of the church and got the authorization.52

According to Ottoman laws, non-Muslims had the right to exercise their own laws for cases among themselves. However, as it happened often in other parts of the Ottoman Empire, Balıkesir Armenians from time-to-time applied to the Balıkesir Muslim Court to sort out their problems. For example, the Armenian Pabok appointed Murad as his representative and divorced his wife Cevher and had the court register the divorce.53 Moreover, Armenians applied to the court on many issues, such as business and inheritance.

Armenian Murad filed a complaint that Abraham refused to pay the four thousand akçe he owed to him but Abraham denied this. In the end Abraham, who swore on the New Testament, won the case.54

49 697/71b-2 ve 3.
50 697/35a-1.
51 Ermeni kilisesi tamirine dair (about the repair of Armenian Church): 703/70b (9b)-4. Ermeni kilisesinin tamir izni be buna ait iki fetva (the permission of Armenian Church and two Fetvas of this): 703/60a(1)-1 ve 3.
52 “...medine-i Balıkesiri’de sakin olan Ermeni taifesinin ayin-i bâtılaları üzere mabedhâneleri olan kadîm kenîseleri sakafının murûr-i eyyâm ile bazı yerleri harab olup...” 703/5a-3.
53 693/216-4.
54 “...mezbûra bir akçe deynim yoktur deyu İncil’e yemin-i billahi tealâ itdükten sonra...” 696/38b-2.



The woman named Hüma appointed her husband her representative and filed a complaint about Şehri the new wife of her son-in-law that she refused to give back the belongings of her deceased daughter. Hüma won the case.55

Armenians applied to Muslim Courts for death certificates56, surety bonds57 and buying and selling houses58 as well.

Armenians who could not sort their differences in the local courts applied to higher courts in the capital city of the Ottoman Empire just as the Muslim subjects did. Some Armenian subjects wrote a petition to Istanbul after they were pressured and taxed illegally by the Security Forces of Balıkesir. Their case was declared just and the local kadı was ordered to compensate for their loses.59

Some Armenians were involved criminal activities, and, therefore, became subjects of legal cases as in the following examples. The Armenian called Israel was injured by two other Armenians60, Sare who got caught while she was having an extra-marital affair with her brotherin-law confessed her guilt before the court.61 Mehmed from Ali Fakih neighborhood was both assaulted verbally and beaten by the drunken Armenian Bogos.62 An Armenian young man called Murad was caught when he broke into Yusuf ’s house.63 They were all punished according to the law.

When they first came to Balıkesir at the beginning of the 17th century Armenians were welcomed and helped as much as possible by the local people. They were not restricted by the authorities, and they owned property, bought and sold real-estate, conducted business and traded within the law. There were not any restrictions on their religious and

55 696/29b-1.
56 696/38b-1.
57 693/193-3.
58 698/55a-1.
59 703/70b(9b)-4
60 698/66a-2.
61 702/124a-3.
62 696/29b-2.
63 698/54b-10.


cultural activities, and they were allowed to have legal churches. Non-Muslims even brought the cases among themselves before the Muslim courts to solve them according to the Muslim laws.

As it happened in other Ottoman cities, Turks and Armenians lived side by side for a long time in Balıkesir, too, thanks to this “experience of living together”, regardless of linguistic, religious, ethnic and cultural differences..

Source: © Erciyes University 2006

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